Rumours are flying thick and fast over Scott Morrison’s impending ministerial reshuffle this week, but one particularly spicy one lasted barely minutes before being seemingly shut down.
Endless column inches and broadcast media segments have been devoted to the new lineup for the Prime Minister’s front bench in recent weeks. But one theory – pulling in a former senator, a current senator, and a plum overseas posting – was born then apparently died within the lifecycle of a single tweet.
With COVID all but eliminated in Australia, it seems surreal but we are returning to the regular bread and butter political stories of pre-virus times.
Leadership rumblings in Labor and the Nationals, the government taking potshots at the ABC, looming battles on industrial relations, and whispers over who will be variously hired and fired in a coming ministerial reshuffle; all standard fare in standard times, but real “nature is healing” stuff at the end of this very non-standard year.
The recent departure of Mathias Cormann, off on a global jaunt as he chases the top job at the OECD, kicked off a cascading set of leadership changes. Trade and Tourism Minister Simon Birmingham has taken the vacant Minister for Finance role, meaning his old portfolios need filling.
There’s talk employment minister Michaelia Cash or education minister Dan Tehan could take up Birmo’s old gigs, with a younger backbencher – someone like Dave Sharma, Tim Wilson, Andrew Hastie or Ben Morton – to be promoted into the ministry.
It could be as simple as that. Simple, clean, the most minimalist switch possible.
But 2021 could be an election year, and with Mr Morrison enjoying a lead in the polls, he may feel empowered to reward his strongest allies.
Another train of thought is that Linda Reynolds could be dropped from defence, replaced by Peter Dutton, with Government Services Minister Stuart Robert – a staunch Morrison man – taking up home affairs.
Senator Reynolds has done a strong job in trying circumstances, especially in light of the recent Brereton report into alleged war crimes by Australian soldiers in Afghanistan, but there have been rumours for months that Mr Dutton had his eyes on her job.
Pressure has mounted on Senator Reynolds this week after a campaign in conservative media that criticised her strong comments on the incidents included in the Brereton report – which she described as “alleged cold-blooded murder”.
Influential 2GB radio host Ray Hadley used an interview with Mr Morrison to “suggest that you should talk to the Defence Minister” about that comment, and accused her of “throwing petrol on the fire”.
It’s a tense time in managing public expectations around the defence force, and a delicate balancing act.
The PM has publicly committed to seeing the “brutal truths” of the ADF report through to potential criminal prosecution, but has been at pains to stress the allegations are against only a small few, as he can’t afford to alienate the veteran community.
At the same time, demoting Senator Reynolds – one of the highest-profile women in his cabinet, and a veteran herself – would do little to counter perceptions of a gender problem within the Liberal Party.
On Thursday Mr Dutton hosed down speculation of him moving jobs, saying “I don’t think that’s likely”.
“I think I’m likely to stay in Home Affairs and that ultimately is a decision for the Prime Minister,” he told Sky News.
But yet another element was thrown into the mix on Sunday, on the ABC’s Insiders. Respected journalist from The Australian, Niki Savva, aired information she said she had received, that our American ambassador Arthur Sinodinos could be returning home due to ill-health, and could be replaced by Foreign Minister Marise Payne.
Insiders host David Speers said that would be “huge”, thereby opening up another spot in the senior ranks. But barely minutes later, Mr Sinodinos himself denied that was happening.
Not going anywhere, happy in the service
— Arthur Sinodinos AO (@A_Sinodinos) December 12, 2020
Replying to a 9.45am tweet from Insiders, the former senator said he was “not going anywhere” at 9.54am. The red-hot rumour had been alive for just nine minutes, before being seemingly knocked on the head.
Of course, anything could happen with such a reshuffle, and nothing’s ruled out until Mr Morrison makes his announcement.
Whatever decision is made will also have repercussions for Labor, with Anthony Albanese possibly set to make a small lineup change of his own. The opposition leader may look to shuffle his lineup to ensure good match-ups between his shadow ministers and their government counterpart, depending how radical Mr Morrison decides to be.
In any case, watch this space.